Tag Archives: 5G

Aitik gets connected to LTE network as Boliden looks at 5G future

Boliden has, for the past few years, been testing out 4G and 5G networks at its mines in the Nordic region and recently went live with 4G (LTE) network services at its Aitik open-pit copper mine in Sweden, Fredrik Kauma, Project Manager, told attendees at the recent Mines and Technology conference in London.

The company, one of the mining sector’s leaders when it comes to employing innovative technology, installed its first underground Wi-Fi network in 2013 and has since come a long way on this connectivity journey.

Today, all of Boliden’s mines have complete Wi-Fi coverage, with the network consisting of some 3,000 installed access points and additional hardware, Kauma said. The company uses this for voice communication and positioning, but also other services such as remote control, machine-to-machine interactions and general data or information access.

In 2016, the company installed a small 4G network in one of its underground mines. Now, multiple upgrades later, the network includes the latest 4G features, in addition to elements considered “borderline” 5G, Kauma said. He credited a close co-operation with Ericsson and its research organisation for this installation as well as the Swedish mobile network operator Telia.

The 4G/5G network covers about 1.8 km of tunnels plus 10,000 m² of other areas (production/workshop/offices/canteen) with relatively few pieces of radio equipment, according to Kauma.

Coverage of a similar area with Wi-Fi would require about three times as many access points, he pointed out.

Kauma said: “We use our 4G/5G network to:

  • “Test and compare connectivity-related capabilities – network speed, coverage, quality, etc;
  • “Learn about operation and maintenance; how to roll systems out, what to monitor, key performance indicators, etc;
  • “Understand more of the business side – what work to do in-house/outsource, what should be part of a service level agreement, etc.”

A direct outcome of this test network has been the recently addition of 4G network services at Aitik, one of Europe’s largest and most efficient open-pit copper mines.

This will allow the company to, primarily, carry out accurate remote control of its fleet of Epiroc Pit Viper blasthole drill rigs.

“But, long-term we believe it will replace our existing production Wi-Fi network,” Kauma said.

The future in 5G

While Wi-Fi does offer Boliden much in terms of connectivity, it cannot match 4G/5G when it comes to robustness and coverage. This is part of the reason the company is pursuing developments with 5G technology.

Equipment tracking is one area that could potentially be improved with 5G, Kauma said.

Today Boliden currently uses “passive” Wi-Fi tags for this task, with active antennas mounted on mining vehicles. The signal reflection is only picked up if the tags face the direction of the active antenna and the vehicle with antenna passes close by. While this system adds a lot of value, it does not currently offer the reliability Boliden would like to see, he said.

With 5G, Boliden expects to have “active”, as opposed to passive, tags, which transmit information on a pre-determined basis.

What Kauma termed “advanced remote control” operation is another area set to benefit from 5G connectivity.

The company already has remote control operations today, but it is either line-of-sight or a pre-determined, repetitive type of remote operation; not advanced.

In advanced remote operations, the performance of the wireless communications network has a direct impact on how well the operator can handle the machine, with control responsiveness and picture quality the main factors here.

According to Kauma, low latency will greatly improve the real-time aspects required for secure and efficient handling of vehicles, machinery and other equipment such as drills, hammers, shovels, etc.

In addition, the Quality of Service concept, where priority of connection is given to certain customers, will guarantee bandwidth needs for a detailed enough video stream to the remote operator – even on a heavily loaded network, he said.

“Higher data rates and increased network capacity will enable remote control on a larger scale than what’s possible on today’s 4G technology,” Kauma said.

The improved connectivity expected to come with employing 5G will also be beneficial for wearable technologies, which Boliden has been trialling to help improve the safety and well-being of employees.

The company recently tested out use of a prototype “smart vest” at one of its underground mines for, primarily, proximity detection, but also to “gain a better understanding of other possibilities that comes with this technology”, Kauma said.

The prototype vest was the result of research cooperation between Boliden, Ericsson, clothing company Helly Hansen and technology firm LightFlex Sweden AB.

In addition to the standard proximity detection functions, lights or reflectors warn the wearer as well as surrounding personnel of potential dangers through different flashing/blinking patterns.

Together with advance camera technology, the lights also aid autonomous machinery to automatically detect humans in dark environments.

Boliden would like to, in the near-future, use wearable technology for the monitoring of employees in physically-demanding environments; for analysis of the immediate environment surrounding employees (extreme temperatures, dangerous air quality, strong vibrations or sounds); and for positioning and situational awareness (ie warnings for approaching vehicles).

Key ingredients to make this a reality include a reduction in power consumption – low power means smaller and longer lasting batteries – a fall in cost, enabling the company to equip its entire workforce, and better network coverage and reliability – hence the use of 5G.

“If 5G delivers on its promise, it will be a critical component enabling wearable technology in an industrial environment like ours,” Kauma concluded.

Sandvik and Nokia team up to offer miners LTE and 5G networks

Sandvik has signed an agreement with Nokia to further develop solutions for private LTE (Long Term Evolution) and 5G technology, continuing its focus on IoT solutions for the mining industry.

The Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (NDAC) platform offers pervasive connectivity enabling advanced applications and will initially be implemented and tested in the Sandvik test mine in Tampere, Finland, Sandvik said.

“Sandvik’s decades-long work in automation has grown to include robust data analytics and process optimisation offerings, where connectivity and local computing power are crucial. Applications requiring high capacity and low latency are becoming increasingly important,” the company said.

“Private LTE networks bring reliable and secure high capacity, low latency and wide coverage mobile broadband to serve mission and business critical industrial connectivity needs and offer a variety of terminals, sensors and other devices,” Sandvik added.

The Nokia digital automation platform will operate both underground and in open-pit mines and offers a flexible connectivity platform for testing and developing Sandvik technology, according to Sandvik. “This network enables operation of autonomous vehicles, real-time monitoring of underground and outdoor premises to keep people and equipment safe, remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance, as well as asset management, control and authentication,” the company said.

Riku Pulli, Vice President, Automation, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, said: “Our cooperation with Nokia is another important part of our strategy to develop open, interoperable solutions for future mining needs. Enhanced connectivity is critical for smarter and safer underground operations, and we’re proud to work with Nokia to develop these enhanced connectivity options for our test mine and mining industry going forward.”

Stephan Litjens, General Manager, Nokia Digital Automation, said: ”Pairing Sandvik solutions with 5G-ready NDAC architecture has proven to be an excellent match. We are truly motivated to continue collaborating to develop technology that meets the requirements of the often-harsh conditions they operate in – be it moist, hot, cold, and/or dusty.”

Sandvik’s Pulli concluded: “Sandvik is a leader in mine automation and digitalisation, and Nokia offers leading technology in wireless connectivity. Together, we create innovative solutions for mining customers.”

Recently Agnico Eagle Mines, which is pilot testing automated mining using the Sandvik AutoMine system at its La Ronde Zone 5 mine, confirmed it would install an LTE network at the operation in Quebec, Canada.